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Book Review: Bellwether by Connie Willis

Book Review: Bellwether by Connie WillisSummary:
Sandra Foster studies fads and their meanings for the HiTek corporation. Bennet O’Reilly works with monkey group behavior and chaos theory for the same company. When the two are thrust together due to a misdelivered package and a run of seemingly bad luck, they find a joint project in a flock of sheep.

Review:
This was given to me eons ago because of how much I love To Say Nothing of the Dog (review) by Connie Willis. This book has a similar sense of humor that definitely kept me entertained but the plot and backstory that ties it all together didn’t hit quite the same loved it nerve with me.

I loved seeing a book set in the mountain range area of the country (Colorado to be precise). I feel like this doesn’t happen often enough in books. I also found there was a real nostalgia quality to the book because it was first published in 1996 and set in its own time-period, so the whole thing just screamed 90s nostalgia to me. This played in well to Sandra’s fad studies. It gave the book a good reason to notice and talk about the fads, and this held up well over time. What originally was a “oh look at this silly thing people are doing right now” became “hey remember when West Coast coffee was first a thing?” I also really appreciated that a social science was featured at the core of a scifi book. Not just that but a scientist of a science deemed more important and sciencey (chaos theory) ends up working with her and respecting her research and its methods. Super cool.

While I thought the research study was cool, I wasn’t as huge of a fan of the competition to receive the grant of a lifetime plot. I appreciated Sandra working to save her job, but the big grant loomed overhead from the very beginning like a deus ex machina. Sandra’s disdain for her coworkers wanting to ban smoking from the building as a fad really didn’t translate well over time. This wasn’t a fad; it was a public health policy, and it rubbed me wrong every time Sandra implied it was like the whole are eggs good or bad for you debate. Second-hand smoke is just bad for you, and unlike a coworker eating an egg, it can actually impact your health if you’re around it. I’m sure it was funnier in the 90s but it didn’t work so well now, and it honestly made me dislike Sandra a bit.

Overall, scifi fans looking for a humorous plot with a female lead, an unusual focus on the social sciences with a dash of 1990s nostalgia will enjoy this book.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Gift

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Book Review: To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

December 13, 2010 6 comments

Person looking into river.Summary:
Ned Henry is a time-traveling historian at Oxford, who has unfortunately been assigned to Lady Shrapnell’s quest to recreate an historic church.  For the last…god knows how long, he’s been searching for the bishop’s bird stump in the 1940s.  He finds himself suffering from time-lag and is promised a vacation in Victorian England where Lady Shrapnell can’t find him.  Of course, the Oxford historians need him to take care of one teeny tiny little incongruity caused by fellow time-traveling historian, Verity, who just so happens to be as beautiful as a naiad.  Of course, that could just be the time-lag talking.

Review:
Wow.  Wow.  I literally hugged this book multiple times as I was reading it.  I love it that much.  You know that old Looney Tunes cartoon with the abominable snowman who finds Bugs Bunny and then scoops him up and rocks him saying, “I will hug him and love him and squeeze him and call him George” ?  If I was the abominable snowman, this book would be my Bugs Bunny.

It is incredibly witty in that highly intelligent manner that expects you to be educated to get the joke.  Multiple references to classic literature, historic events, and more tossed around as quips and comparisons to events characters are currently going through.  It also features the put-upon hero, Ned, who maintains a good sense of humor about the whole thing in that lovely self-deprecating way that makes me wish the character could pop out of the book and be my best friend.

Additionally, I love history as long-time readers of this blog know.  History was one of my two majors in university.  I was the 7 year old girl who sat around watching war movies and PBS documentaries.  I also love scifi.  Hence, the entire concept of time-travel is one of my all-time favorite things, and Willis handles it so intelligently and beautifully!  I love that time travel is something only the academics do since everyone else finds it dull once it’s discovered they can’t loot from the past.  It makes so much sense!  I love the implication that non-academics are quite happy with shopping malls while Ned and Verity go traipsing around through the past navigating a world distantly related to our own.  One of my favorite moments is when Ned discovers that Victorians actually used exclamations like “pshaw” that are found in Victorian novels.  It’s a historian’s dream come true!

Finally, a significant portion of the storyline revolves around cats.  Adding an extra layer of awesome to this is the fact that cats are extinct in the future, so Ned has never encountered one before.  He makes the initial mistake of thinking cats are like dogs.  Any cat lovers, I’m sure, can envision the hilarity that ensues from this little thought process.  Also, seriously, Willis clearly understands animals perfectly.  The mannerisms of the cats and the bull dog, Cyril, are written to a T.

Put together humor, time travel, history, and animals, and this is the perfect read.  If you enjoy any one of those things, but definitely if you enjoy more than one of them, you absolutely must give this book a chance.  I haven’t loved a book this much in years, and I just….I just want to spread the love.  I also want to go re-read it right now.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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